Located about 204 mi/328 km southeast of Zagreb, Korcula is one of the lushest of the Croatian islands. The island was first colonized by the Greeks in the sixth century, who named it Korkyra Melaina (Black Korcula) after the many dense forests. It can be reached by a short ferry ride from Orebic, on the Peljesac peninsula, or from Split or Zadar.

Korcula Town and Vela Luka are the largest towns on the island. Jutting into the sea, surrounded by the remains of a medieval wall, Korcula resembles a miniature Dubrovnik. The compact town center reflects the region's Venetian heritage, with Cathedral Square providing the best atmosphere in the city. Local legend says that Marco Polo was born in Korcula Town, and his house can be visited.

One tradition not to be missed is the Moreska Sword Dance, a Korculan custom carried out with clashing swords and an intricately choreographed dance. The dance was common throughout the Mediterranean in the 12th and 13th centuries, originating in Spain as a depiction of the conflict between Moors and Christians. Now the tradition remains only on Korcula and takes place every Thursday during the summer season.

Be sure to take home a bottle of the fine olive oil or wine produced in local groves and vineyards. And listen carefully to the local speech: The Korculans use a melodious dialect with elements of Greek and Italian.

Korcula makes an excellent base for day trips to places such as Mljet and other islands of the Elaphite group (southeast of Korcula Island). Mljet is the largest and prettiest island in the area. In the middle of this forest-covered island is Mljet National Park, which contains the beautiful blue lake Veliko Jezero. In the middle of this lake is an island that holds the small 12th-century Benedictine monastery of St. Mary.

Other easy excursions from Korcula include the beaches and Franciscan monastery of the port of Orebic. (A local ferry runs daily, with more frequent trips in summer.) The monastery has a nice view of the Adriatic. We suggest allowing three days in Korcula and the surrounding area.

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